Shaper on Shaper: Simon & Maurice

Show aired on 8th September 2018

Transcript

Elliot Moss
Welcome to the Jazz Shapers podcast from Mishcon de Reya. What you are about to hear was originally broadcast on Jazz FM however music has been cut or shortened due to rights issues.

Welcome to another Saturday morning here on Jazz FM and another Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss but today, ladies and gentlemen, we have one with a difference because I have got not one but two Business Shapers with me here on the programme and they have both been on it before. First up, originally on the programme back in October 2017, our first guest was an original BBC Dragon on Dragons’ Den and it’s the founder of the Yo! brand which includes Yo! Sushi, YOTEL, Yo! Home and probably other things as well as we are speaking, he is probably inventing them. Welcome to the programme, it’s Simon Woodroffe. Hello.

Simon Woodroffe
Hello.

Elliot Moss
You are back.

Simon Woodroffe
I am. No, I like coming in here.

Elliot Moss
Do you?

Simon Woodroffe
It’s a nice basement, it’s kind a cool and you guys are interesting, you are off the cuff.

Elliot Moss
Off the cuff, is exactly right, we have nothing scripted and we’ll see what that does for the next one hour of radio. So, brilliant Simon, thank you for coming, you are going to have some fun today. And if you think two years ago seems a long time then please welcome our second guest today, portfolio entrepreneur Maurice Helfgott. He was on, in fact, back in 2012, you were on Show 5. That’s a long time ago, before we knew better.

Maurice Helfgott
No-one invited me before, no-one has invited me since so how I could I resist a second time around.

Elliot Moss
Maurice is the found of Amery Capital and it is his vehicle for numerous investments including Oliver Sweeney, was Long Tall Sally, in fact I think you have divested I think that one over there, and quite a few other things as well, and you also, is on lots of boards, he is a Chairman and Director. Welcome back, you have been busy in the last five years as well.

Maurice Helfgott
I have but I enjoy it.

Elliot Moss
He looks like he enjoys it, he says with gritted teeth. During the next hour so we are going to hear how they both approach business, sometimes in the say way I imagine, sometimes in very different and radical ways but both of them have been super successful so what we are going to hear is those to talking to each other. It won’t be Jeremy Paxman, they are going to be gentle with each other I am sure, but if they do go Paxmanesque well that’s fine, just stay with me. Right, a bit of music then before we get going this is from Ramsey Lewis here on Jazz Shapers and this is Money In The Pocket.

That was Ramsey Lewis with Money In The Pocket and you are with us on a very special edition of Shaper on Shaper here on Jazz Shapers on Jazz FM, I am Elliot Moss. My two business shapers today are Maurice Helfgott and Simon Woodroffe and both successful in their own way and both very different in their backgrounds. I am going to start the thing going here. Simon, you left school at sixteen, Maurice you went to Harvard after a First Class Degree at Manchester. Pretty different backgrounds when you have both ended up here talking to me.

Simon Woodroffe
It’s true, I mean, I don’t know about you but I reckon to do anything really difficult which is, you’ve done some really difficult things and I know I have, and to have all those sleepless nights and to put yourself through the agony of being an entrepreneur and doing things, there has to be some kind of what I call ‘grit in the oyster’, something that sort of drives you and I think mine was, I always tell the story that when I was growing up I used to tell people I was going to be a millionaire by the time I was twenty. You know, I was a bit of a show off really and then when I got to twenty of course it was love and peace and the sixties and I thought, well, you know I’ll leave it till later and I went through my thirties and eventually I got to forty and I had a sort tear your hair moment, I’ve got to do it now. But I think the drive for me was that we were always, for a kick off in our family and our extended family, we were always a bit less well off than the rest of them and I always wanted to be one of them, I had the one of them thing and that was a real drive to prove myself and not just to show off but to prove to other people that I was something. Do you have a ‘grit in the oyster’?

Maurice Helfgott
I think that’s interesting, I think proving to other people is part of the motivation that is not particularly, I am not particularly proud of but I think is part of what drives me. I don’t think it was very much the amount of money to make but it was the idea of success. I was pretty successful all the way through my school and my childhood, I was the captain of the gym team or the fencing team or I was the leader of Jewish prayers or ran the societies at university or whatever it is and then I had a successful career at M&S and then when I got to my mid-thirties or late thirties I felt, you know, I’d been successful, I want to do it on my own and there was a sense of being able to prove to the world, prove to myself, that I could be independent. That was really more my motivation.

Simon Woodroffe
So, in a way your moment was in your thirties, whereas my moment was in my twenties.

Maurice Helfgott
Perhaps, that’s…

Simon Woodroffe
So when I had to step out of the, sort of, because you were in a fairly good comfort zone with all that success in the corporate world. Why would you want to step outside and go through all of that or wasn’t it like that for you?

Maurice Helfgott
Well, I think when I left M&S after seventeen years in 2004 I had opportunities to do other big corporate jobs and I had been passionate about M&S so I’d loved it, I had believed in its values, I believed in quality and value and servicing community and looking after people well, I believed in all of that but I had really had enough and to go and do something else for another corporate, I felt like, got it, done it, got the t-shirt, don’t want to do that. And I was also kind of naïve because my salary had always been very good, it had always risen much faster than my spending and I thought, well, what I want to do is have capital, I want to be independent and so I took my savings and I invested it in the first business that we bought to turn around which happened to be Long Tall Sally and after a few months I realised I had made a number of mistakes, it was going to cost a lot more.

Simon Woodroffe
As you do.

Maurice Helfgott
It was going to be a lot more expensive and then after six months I thought I’d sorted it all out and we bought another business and in fact then about eighteen months after I started my entrepreneurial career I found that I had no savings left, I had no income, I had two businesses that were going south very fast that I was responsible for and I thought if I don’t sort this out, what’s going to happen to me and it was a very, very difficult time.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for much more from my Business Shapers here today talking to each other and finding out about the grit in the oyster and what the reality of running businesses is really like. We are coming back to both of those in a moment. Time for some music right now, this is Nora Jones with Carry On.

You are listening to Jazz Shapers, this is a Jazz Shapers special, I have got shaper on shaper action here right in front of me, Simon Woodroffe and Maurice Helfgott and they are talking to each other about all sorts of things around what it is that makes them who they are. Maurice, I think you wanted to ask Simon a question.

Maurice Helfgott
When you talk about grit in the oyster I think that’s right, I think there is also when I reflect on myself there was a huge amount of naivety, a belief in what could be done and what I could do and an unrealistic sense of what the risks really were and the price that you pay. But when you are swimming you’ve got to swim once you are in the water. Do you feel what some of those really dark moments when it was hard?

Simon Woodroffe
Oh yes, I mean I really relate to that and actually, you know I mean, I started a restaurant at the age of forty five, I mean what do you do when you’ve been a roady, you’ve been a set designer, you’ve done some TV, you’ve done lots of different things, you are running out of money – I say running out of money, don’t feel too sorry for me, I was down to my last two hundred grand though, you know – what do you do, you start a restaurant. You know, extremely high risk, almost certainly going to fail but during that two years, and I was going to open in one year and it took me two years in the end which is what made the restaurant, it was a very good thing that it did happen later but they were very halcyon years for me, you know I absolutely loved that period and during, you know, that period I truly believe for 90% that it was going to work. For 10% of the time I had a lot of doubts and that was pretty uncomfortable in my body, you know, and for 5% of it was sheer terror, you know waking up in the middle of the night going what am I doing, who the hell do I think I am thinking I could do something like this. But I think that if I had been, you know, that is why accountants generally aren’t entrepreneurs, this is why people, the more educated and in fact you are an exception I would say, the more educated you are in business and everything, the less likely you are to become an entrepreneur because if you actually look at it statistically you are not going to succeed but I believed it.

Maurice Helfgott
I think that’s absolutely right and, you know, I don’t call myself an entrepreneur per se, I mean I would say whatever Business Shaper means…

Simon Woodroffe
You are an investor I guess aren’t you.

Maurice Helfgott
I’ll tick that box. I take a risk, I do entrepreneurial things but what I have never done and I have never been motivated to do, I have never had the belief to do is what you’ve done which is really have an idea at the kitchen table and started absolutely from scratch. I’ve taken things, I’ve changed them, I’ve risked them, I’ve evolved them radically, I love to radically change things but not actually to begin things from scratch and I do admire that.

Simon Woodroffe
So when you get that moment of seeing something you want to do, I am sure you have lots come across your table, but what’s the moment and how do you do that?

Maurice Helfgott
So, for me…

Simon Woodroffe
From an idea.

Maurice Helfgott
From an idea perspective I can only recite the basics that everybody knows. You know, does the… is the market receptive, is the product attractive, is the team that are going to put around it capable, do they have a track record? And then you have that sense, that feeling, of whether customers are going to be attracted to it or not.

Simon Woodroffe
I do agree with you, and I don’t and my rational head completely is with you but actually I often don’t do it like that, often I do it because I am obsessed with an idea and, as you say, I start things from scratch, I am obsessed with being able to re-invent something and make it completely different and I want to see that come to fruition and I know that in larger groups of people that new ideas get knocked to the ground very quickly because there is always a reason why not to do them so what turns me on is doing it myself or with one other like-minded person and I could imagine doing it with you, you know, we’d get on very well in that sense, let’s go for it, but we would know when to quit and cut bait, you know, the execution is the key but you’ve got to get out if it’s not going to work but you’ve got allow things to develop.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for much more and by the way if there’s a business set up here I’d like a cut as well because there is a commission here on Jazz FM, just to be super clear about obsession and making money. Much more from my guests on this shaper on shaper programme today with Simon Woodroffe and Maurice Helfgott after this from our partners at Mishcon de Reya, it is a welcome return to Paddy O’Connell and the News Sessions and the answers to the questions that are going to come up are all around what is crypto currency?

I hope you are enjoying our very special shaper on shaper Jazz Shaper’s programme today. Two guests in the studio with me who are both asking good questions and I imagine learning a bit from each other and also, by the sounds of it, thinking about plotting and planning a new business. Simon Woodroffe, Founder of the Yo! group of brands and Maurice Helfgott, Founder of Amery Capital. Simon, over to you.

Simon Woodroffe
Yeah, well you are in many ways you are more of an investor than I am, Maurice, you know I’ve always done my own things, invested my own money in my own things but I’d like to know how much, honestly, how much making money out of it is the driver for you, I mean what’s your relationship with money?

Maurice Helfgott
It’s such a good question because, and I’ll give a caveat to the answer, because people who are lucky enough to pay the bills and have a roof over their head can afford to say the money is less important to them than if you don’t and I do respect that, but I actually am motivated by money, I am motivated to be financially independent, I am motivated to provide for my family and to have the creature comforts and luxury and some of the status that money brings. I can’t deny that, that’s true.

Simon Woodroffe
Very honest.

Maurice Helfgott
But I don’t like doing things for the money. And if I think about my career at M&S for example, I never really thought about making money. I thought about buying the product better, I thought about serving the customers better, I thought about treating the staff better, I thought about the business strategy better, that was my motivation, and yes my salary would increase and my career would improve and I’d make money. Whereas as an investor I make more Faustian bargains. I think about what the exits going to be. I make more compromises. I accept things that I am less comfortable with because ultimately I am responsible for taking a project through from the beginning of investment to making an exit and I am thinking more about how this project is going to make money or that said very high part of what I am thinking about as opposed to all the good things about legacy of the business and other balance things and I don’t like that.

Simon Woodroffe
This is not something you’d expect to hear from a business man but I am touched by your sensitivity and compassion for people who are struggling with money because I went through, after I left school, I mean we weren’t poor, poor but we didn’t have a great deal of money as a family growing up, and I went through a period where I really was quite poor, I used to get to a Wednesday and run out of money and you know put flour underneath the grill and if I was lucky put a bit of jam on it just to eat, so I know what it’s like to be really poor and I’ve always been really related to people in that and I have the same relationship with money in the sense that, you know, the ultimate fear is that you don’t have enough money to survive and all of that but how much status do I really need and how much, you know I like a bit of that, I like a bit of luxury but I am not running out of money is my real fear, not losing is my real fear I suppose.

Maurice Helfgott
The psychological research Daniel Kahneman or whatever saying that with loss aversion is a big motivation for all of us as human beings. It’s much, much more frightening to lose something we have than to be excited about what we don’t have. I personally have been very lucky, I was brought up very comfortably, I’ve always been very comfortable but interestingly I was talking to my mum yesterday and for some reason she was talking about her background in Bulawayo in Matabeleland…

Simon Woodroffe
Was she poor?

Maurice Helfgott
And she was explaining that she remembers as a kid in a tiny little town in today’s Zimbabwe, that she and her sister lived in a apartment above the shop in the veranda, her parents lived in the one room in the house behind the apartment and the two apartments, her and the neighbours, shared one bathroom. So, they weren’t that comfortable.

Simon Woodroffe
No, that’s right, yeah. But I mean I often with that politicians were, I think it is very difficult for all politicians, certainly brought up with a reasonable amount of comfort to actually understand that, you know, in the north of England or wherever it is that there are people who suffer on a sort of daily basis with not having enough money to just about survive and look after their children and do all of that and, you know, I think I live in the lap of luxury really but I definitely do have a sense of, I can’t believe my luck, you know, and I try and celebrate that and people say it’s not luck, you did a lot of things and I am very respecting of what I have done and I admire myself for having done it actually, I am proud of it but I also think I am very lucky to have got what I have got.

Maurice Helfgott
But you also seem to me, and we met each other five/ten years ago I don’t remember I came to visit you, but seeing you again today, you seem to so youthful and so energetic and so vital and I am wondering if you think that perhaps starting a business much later than many other people started business…

Simon Woodroffe
Yes.

Maurice Helfgott
…has contributed to you feeling this way or were you just always younger of mind and that’s why you could do it at a later age and others couldn’t?

Simon Woodroffe
What a great question. Yeah, I mean I think that is great because I always think I would have done much better if I had sort of been like Richard Branson and started at twenty one and I started Yo! Sushi at forty five which is really my entrepreneurial career so, yeah, I mean I have still got some energy and I sometimes think to myself I am just doing, you know obviously we have done the Yo! Sushi and YOTELs have done very well really so I have had two hits under our belt and I am now doing Yo! Home which I have to hold my hands up to admit it has taken me seven years to get to this and it’s long awaited and hopefully it will be up and running next year. And you know it’s quite stressful sometimes, you know, and when you do something new it is difficult doing it and I sometimes think well why am I doing this and I wake up and have these why are you doing this moment, but actually you’ve got to keep on going, and you know you hear all the people say, I’m sixty six by the way, but you hear older people say that but I do feel, I still feel immensely passionate about doing things and I think it’s the idea that really gets, I want to see it come to life, give it vision and also I think there is a bit of legacy involved in that if I am really honest, you know I’d like people to say, you know you’ve eaten in Yo! Sushi, you’ve slept in YOTEL and now you’re living in Yo! Home and I’ve got another one which…

Maurice Helfgott
Yolo!

Simon Woodroffe
Well, exactly. Well, funnily enough I have got a… I’m doing a resort, I’m just starting on the process of doing a resort, who knows what will happen but and now you can come and chill out in Yotopia!

Elliot Moss
Hold that thought, hold that thought of Yotopia here on Jazz FM and Jazz Shapers and fascinating conversation between my two Business Shapers today on this Shaper on Shaper special. Time for some music right now before we come back to them, it’s Hugh Masekela and Grazing In The Grass.

That was the brilliant Hugh Masekela with Grazing In The Grass. I am with Maurice and Simon – first names terms now, we’ll drop their last names much easier. Maurice and Simon have been talking about all sorts of things, both of you alighted on the energy point and you made the observation Maurice that Simon does look incredibly youthful, feels young and you are right it is sort of twenty years late you happened to start at the age of forty five whether age makes any difference or not at all. In terms of energy, what about you, because I’ve known you for a while and I’ve always been struck by your energy Maurice. Where does your energy come from? What drives that do you think?

Maurice Helfgott
You know I get up in the morning and I am excited about what I am going to do that day, I am excited to meet people, most of my energy comes from meeting people and from newness. You know, I can’t really sit still, I love things that are and discovering new things all the time. I recently have started chairing a software business, the first purely software business that I have been involved in and we have a thousand clients who are omnichannel retailers and we provide the back office, it’s called Brightpearl, we provide the back off for those retailers. And for me one of the greatest things about it is I get to meet lots of entrepreneurial omnichannel retailers who are changing the way business is being done today so I find doing the same thing really boring, I find discovering new things drives my energy.

Simon Woodroffe
You know, in organisations there have to be all sorts of people, there have to be the worker bees and a this and a that but I still, certainly people who are working with me, the thing that I am looking for mostly in employing people is enthusiasm. I think for anybody who is young, so starting out in business, you know, for all the stuff you put on your CV, for all the things, the technical things that you learnt at university, if you could have enthusiasm, the sort of enthusiasm you are hearing from us today I guess, it’s very, very attractive to an employer.

Maurice Helfgott
So, what I am trying to think of the phrase, it’s you know, you hire the personality and you develop the skill. I think so much of it is about personality, it’s about energy, it’s about the way you have empathy with people, the way you make people feel when you want to work with them and so those are the kinds of people I like to work with and the kinds of people we like to have in our businesses.

Simon Woodroffe
And I think more and more, I think this generation, the last couple of generations have really set the standard for treating people well, you know, the political correctness we have has brought a very good part that we treat people very well and I think I have been pretty sharp in my time over the years, you know and had to do you know have my back against the wall and you know but more and more as I get older I find that you are absolutely right, if you are kind to people – kind but tough – you know, I actually think we should be able to fire people more easily than we do, it gives them a chance to stop messing around and get on and do something proper, but to set… to find groups of talented people and then set them to work, I mean my words I always say let them do their thing their way not my way. You know, and I’ve learnt that.

Elliot Moss
We are almost at the end but not quite with Maurice and Simon our Business Shapers here today on Shaper on Shaper and we have been listening to them talking about what’s important to them and what drives them. Maurice.

Maurice Helfgott
One of the things that always amuses me when you read in the newspapers about what people billion dollar valuations of companies and what people are worth and all this kind of nonsense is being on the inside of it, you know how much BS involved in it and how different financial constructions have very different kinds of value that are not expressed well in headlines and newspapers and I noticed if it’s right that when you sold Yo! Sushi, you sold a percentage for a certain price but you also maintained a perpetual royalty on sales in the business and the brand forever, and my instinct would be that actually that probably was worth, or is and will be worth, perhaps even more than you ever sold the business for and it’s a way of really you being incredibly, incredibly smart and strategic and long-term in terms of capturing some value for your efforts.

Simon Woodroffe
Yeah, I mean that is true and I’ve done the same with the YOTEL and I’ll do the same with all the other Yo! brands and it’s sort of setting your market yourself your mark that says that is what I am going to do, don’t even argue with it, that’s how it has to be and I think it’s right and proper, I mean I came out the music business and that’s what musicians do and you get a royalty and it seems to me that since I have conceived something in my head which was Yo! Sushi and YOTEL that to walk away from it, even with a lot of money, would feel not terribly good but to have a small royalty that’s making a continuing relationship with those people and to still be proud of it is a good way to do it so I think, you know, possibly you’ll see more royalties coming up so yeah.

Maurice Helfgott
I think for something that you create and as you say will always be associated with, you were the brand personality as part of it, it’s smart financially but I also get the emotional connection to it.

Simon Woodroffe
That’s right, exactly. And of course Robin Rowland who you know did most of the grunt work on building Yo! Sushi into a large company and who I’ve always credited with it, I remember sitting in the Award Show with him one day and he said well why do they get you on stage and not me? And I said look Robin, if you got on stage you’d talk about the like for like figures from last year and nobody’s really interested. I probably have something funny to say. So you need different people and, you know in entrepreneurial sense I am an innovator and a starter, I’m good at getting… I think one of the great things in life is what are you good at and I’m good at getting things started, getting people enthused, getting things driving them forward, not dropping, doing the best, best, best, best, best and I’m good at talking about them and publicity and all of that so I try to do what I am good at all the time and that’s reflected in my deals.

Maurice Helfgott
And find partners.

Simon Woodroffe
What are you good at?

Maurice Helfgott
So, not as exciting but I think what I am good at is the strategic, what I am good at is the people and the relationships and what I am good at is motivation and change. You know, I like, what I am terrible at is the day-to-day, is following things through, is being disciplined, is being consistent, I’m really, really not good at that and so when I have coaching conversations or when I talk to people in my teams it’s a little bit ironic because I know how bad I am at those things and how important they are for them to do them so I give them feedback about how they should do them better even though I know I can’t do it myself.

Simon Woodroffe
The disarming honesty is very attractive and we both know that our disarming honesty is attractive.

Maurice Helfgott
I think that’s probably right, there’s no reason not to be honest, right? We’re all fallible human beings and if we understand each other and honest about that, we’ll be successful.

Elliot Moss
I’m going to hold it there because we are going to run out of time. Just before though, we conclude, what’s the one thing you both learnt from each in this short exchange? This fantastic exchange of conversation and insight? Simon, what have you learnt from Maurice?

Simon Woodroffe
What you have in these conversations, you get reminded of yourself and I can see in a mirror to Maurice, I can see a lot of myself in him, but more than anything else I feel inspired, you know, to go away today and I hope people listening feel the same way.

Elliot Moss
Maurice?

Maurice Helfgott
I don’t want to sound like some soppy romantic but I am staring into your eyes here and you are so youthful and so empathetic and it’s just a fantastic conversation and I am fifteen years behind you and I hope for the next thirty four years we are both having fun engaging in business and life and doing this kind of thing.

Simon Woodroffe
Let me tell you, the best is yet to come. It gets better.

Elliot Moss
What a brilliant way to end. Thank you so much both of you and not really guinea pigs here on Business Shapers but actually two pros and that was a bit of a masterclass and like both of you and I often, and the reason I love doing this is because I get inspired every time I meet someone who is doing something fabulous and I go wow, I really do. Thank you so much.

Simon Woodroffe OBE
Simon Woodroffe OBE is the creator of YO! Sushi, the conveyor belt sushi restaurant chain which opened in 1997 and now has over 100 sites around the world.  He then launched YOTEL, the world’s most radical hotel in 2007, which now operates a number of sites including 700 rooms in New York City & Singapore, with San Francisco opening later in 2018.  By 2020, YOTEL will operate 14 hotels across 6 countries and 3 continents.  Simon is now working on YO! Home, his re-invention of the city apartment which looks set to launch in Manchester in Summer 2019.  Simon left school at the age of 16 and spent 30 years in the entertainment business designing and staging concerts for many artists including The Moody Blues, Madness, Rod Stewart, Stevie Wonder and George Michael before embarking on his YO! adventures in the mid-90’s.

Maurice Helfgott
Maurice Helfgott has an MBA with High Distinction from Harvard Business School and is a Portfolio Entrepreneur. He founded and leads Amery Capital with a principal focus on retail and digital consumer businesses, currently including Oliver Sweeney and Goat. Maurice is the Senior Independent Director of Moss Bros Group and Chairman of B Corp Unforgettable.org, whose mission is to improve the lives of those affected by dementia.  Following the successful exit by Amery Capital of Long Tall Sally in August 2016, Maurice was invited to remain as Chairman, and serve on the Supervisory Board of Munich-based, Equistone-backed, TriStyle Holdings. Maurice previously served as Chairman of My Optique Group, Europe’s leading online optical retailer bought by Essilor and was an Executive Director on the Board of Marks and Spencer plc.

“To put yourself through the agony of being an entrepreneur and doing things, there has to be some kind of what I call ‘grit in the oyster’”

“I think proving to other people is part of my motivation. I am not particularly proud of but I think is part of what drives me.”

“I truly believed 90% that it was going to work. 10% of the time I had a lot of doubts and that was pretty uncomfortable in my bodyand for 5% of it was sheer terror, thinking ‘who the hell do I think I am’ thinking I could do something like this.”

“I take risks, I do entrepreneurial things, but what I have never done and I have never been motivated to do, is what you’ve done which is start absolutely from scratch.”

“I start things from scratch, I am obsessed with being able to re-invent something and make it completely different.”

“I accept things that I am less comfortable with because ultimately I am responsible for taking a project through from the beginning of investment to making an exit.”

“I am very respecting of what I have done and I admire myself for having done it actually, I am proud of it but I also think I am very lucky to have got what I have got.”

“You know I get up in the morning and I am excited about what I am going to do that day, I am excited to meet people, most of my energy comes from meeting people and from newness.”